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Newport Redevelopment Plan

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A barrier, not a boulevard

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

About the worst thing that ever happened to the public life of Newport -- including its near-destruction in the Revolutionary War -- was America's Cup Boulevard. This multi-laned stretch of 1960s asphalt turned a pleasurable walking experience into an ugly driving one.

Newport now has an opportunity to overcome this and other 20th Century violence done to its core. Taylor & Partners, a Newport and Boston design firm, has completed a brilliant study of what's wrong with the city's downtown. It also suggests ways to improve it.

The City Council, which commissioned the report, has told the Newport Redevelopment Agency to get going on some of the recommendations. Indeed, there's not a minute to lose.

"The highest priorities," says designer Kenneth Taylor, "are to enhance the historical environment and link the center better to the water."

...

What should be done? Taylor & Partners suggests putting the boulevard "on a diet." That means narrowing the highway to two lanes. This would slow traffic and leave room for widened sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Two car lanes might be feasible even at the boulevard's fattest part, an eight-lane section where it meets Marlborough Street. Landscaping would further "calm" traffic.

In addition, the report recommends roundabouts, to provide safe harbor for crossing pedestrians. Roundabouts are somewhat different from rotaries. A rotary has a large diameter and allows for speeds of up to 40 mph (think of Connell Highway at Admiral Kalfus Road); a roundabout has a smaller diameter, slowing traffic to about 15 mph.

...

The Taylor & Partners report can be found on the Internet. The fastest route is through Google: Type in "Newport Redevelopment Agency," then click on "Plan 2004." (The city should have made it this easy to find on its own Web site, cityofnewport.com.)

...

Continue Reading at: ProJo.com

This Link should work as a direct link to the planning agency's report. The document is a PDF.

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Ohhh I like this. Road diets and roundabouts would be great. That road sucks now, that quote that they took a pedestrian street and turned it into a nightmare is so true. Crossing America's cup is hell.

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I told the East Prov Economic Devlpment office the same thing. Several years ago I met with them over at RI Econ Dvlpment about their water front. In retrospect, I cant believe I had the agates to call a meeting and propose a zillion dollar development (I was maybe 27 at the time, with very limited experience), but once I sketched out the plan and told them "what I picture here is downtown Newport...," they lit up like Christmass trees.

However, when I saw their comprehensive plan a year ago, their version of downtown Newport included Americas Cup Blvd. I told them it was a disaster there and will be here as well. They want 4 divided lanes (much wider than Veteran's Memorial Parkway), 2 giganitic traffic circles, it's awefull.

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More great news coming out of Newport. Downtown Newport was ruined by this road and urban renewal yet downtown has tons of potential. So much of downtown and the waterfront are surface parking lots and empty space. I'd love to see the Brick Market complex leveled, that place looks like a ski resort condo complex combined with a failed 1960s shopping plaza. Americas cup Blvd is not needed, if your going to any of the areas outside of downtown you do not go thru downtown anyway, you go around downtown. If you are going downtown the road still doesnt help you because you first have to go on a two-lane road thru the old cemetary and America's Cup Blvd doesnt even begin until you are already in downtown.

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Newport, Thames Street, 1967 - Urban Removal:

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Newport Waterfront after demolition, 1968:

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Demolition for Memorial Blvd, 1967 (thats the PO in the background) Spring Street in foreground:

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To see more historic photos of RI (I posted this link before regarding the old Providence railroad photos) :

http://www.quickpix.com/cgi-win/IICGI.exe/sixmonths

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More great news coming out of Newport. Downtown Newport was ruined by this road and urban renewal yet downtown has tons of potential.  So much of downtown and the waterfront are surface parking lots and empty space.  I'd love to see the Brick Market complex leveled, that place looks like a ski resort condo complex combined with a failed 1960s shopping plaza.  Americas cup Blvd is not needed, if your going to any of the areas outside of downtown you do not go thru downtown anyway, you go around downtown.  If you are going downtown the road still doesnt help you because you first have to go on a two-lane road thru the old cemetary and America's Cup Blvd doesnt even begin until you are already in downtown.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I hate the Brick Market Place too, totally unnecessary, and it doesn't complement Thames Street at all.

As far as America's Cup goes, you're right again, its like a suburban arterial transplanted into a historic downtown, and has no purpose like you said since it connects to a two lane road by the cemetary. It almost reminds me of the Post Road bypass in Warwick from Apponaug up to just south of the Airport, only with a feeble attempt at retail along it.

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Yikes, I don't know which is worse, what happened in Newport, or what happened at Cathedral Square in Providence. I think I'm giving the prize to Cathedral Square, but only slightly.

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Here's a huge 100+ page pdf about the plan presented by Taylor & Partners with lots of pictures and maps:

http://new.cityofnewport.com/dept/plan/pro...2F2898ACD53.pdf

The plan would really focus on building a few large parking structures, vastly improve the pedestrian environment (realizing that the city was built for the pedestrian and that walking is the best way to experience Newport) and also use an electric bus (they call it a trolley but it looks like a modern mini BRT bus) to shuttle people around the main sections. In many places this bus would operate in dedicated lanes and would also run along a short transit mall down the Long Wharf Mall (old road right of way now a dead pedestrian way). The gateway center would be redeveleped and would have a large parking garage.

Maybe instead of a battery powered bus a short inexpensively built trolley line could be built using some of the right of way from America's Cup Blvd. This need not be a light rail quality line but more of a Lowell, Mass. type line: single track, simple construction using historic equipment and maybe volunteers. Newport is historic afterall and a historic trolley would fit right in. You could use the buses for the longer less busy routes like Ocean Drive, beaches etc.

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Proportionately, Newport lost a leg and a hand, while Providence just lost a couple fingers. I give the award to the City by the Sea.

Both damages can be patched over, but Newport will never regain the original texture. Look at those photos of all the little buildings. When a developer has an acre block, he builds an acre building and parking lot. The orig streetscape was of little 1,000'-2,000' footpprints. The replacements will be a strip mkt under a massive urban edifice. As I told the East Prov folks, the development parcels have to be small, or else you're gonna get giant blocks of constructed volume. It's too efficient to build anything smaller if you have the oportunity. Only smaller parcels will grow small buildings. Therefore, when I see the big parking lots allong the warfs, I know that they will be filled with towering, rectangular monoliths of condo-over-shops, with at best a peaked roof and plain shingles for historic sensitivity.

Woe to the dead hand of the proforma! RI has been so poor for so long that no one builds for beauty around here, just volume. I hope an extravagant developer builds something attractive soon.

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Proportionately, Newport lost a leg and a hand, while Providence just lost a couple fingers. I give the award to the City by the Sea.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I gave the prize to Cathedral Square because though Newport lost a lot more of it's historical structure by volume, at least people still use the America's Cup area. Cathedral Square is post-apacalyptic in nature.

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I would hope that a narrowing project like that planned in Newport enjoys some success and puts a downtown core back in the hands (or under the feet) of pedestrians.

Even with the chaos that ensues every rush hour at the junction of Waterman/Steeple and Memorial Boulevard, I think a narrowing/restructuring of Memorial Boulevard (and South Water Street) southbound to the current 195 overpass would make for an interesting follow-up discussion if the project in Newport proves to be successful.

There's a tangible imbalance there between pedestrians' relative safety along the river walk to the peril one takes trying to cross Memorial Boulevard even with walk signals at Steeple St., College St. and South Water St.. There's also a pedestrian crossing just after the Clifford St. siding off Memorial Boulevard as well, heavily trafficked from the inflow and outflow of day parkers to the Judicial Complex and downcity commerces that instigates near misses of pedestrians pretty regularly.

The south end Memorial Boulevard as a multi-land thoroughfare probably won't make as much sense in a decade when 195 relocates, and would allow some time for the impact of a narrowing of America's Cup Way to be absorbed.

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I can vouch for all that, especially the bit about store hours. One of my biggest gripes about retail in Newport is that so many of the stores have bizzare hours. I don't know how many times I've been shopping for a last-minute gift, only to find the Thames St. boutique that sells the perfect thing closed at 2 pm on a Tuesday.

As for the red lights on America's Cup, I just wish the city would put in those roundabouts that were recommended, what, two years ago...

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Re: North End redevelopment plan: This news is ... a dream come true.

I realized this was a big entry only after I finishing writing it all... :whistling:

Not so fast. The North End plan is a long and odd process. This is actually Phase II (post-Tonomy Hill redevelopment). The city hired Parsons to do plan for lands that would be freed up by the elimination of the ramps to nowhere. But the RI Turnpike & Bridge Authority and RIDOT have not decided whether their plan for the bridge ramp will give up that land or just rework what already exists. So the city is planning for bridge ramp land that may or may not become available, in addition to the former Navy Hospital land, which may or may not become available at the Navy's discretion. Many are arguing that the cart is going before the horse. To say the least, everybody is not on board.

Parsons recently showed its preliminary findings to the City Council, and Parsons focused heavily on tourism (winter-time attractions such as an indoor water park, a lifestyle center a la Mashpee Commons, condos/hotel in the Navy Hospital, etc.) On an island where tourism is already dominant, why are we trying to further build up a low-wage, high-impact sector? Not only that, but how does an indoor water park mesh with the brand identity that Newport has cultivated over the past 30 years? The North End is next door to some of the Navy's top research institutions and at the foot of a bridge that leads to the growing bedroom communities of South County. The opportunity for high-wage research jobs is apparent, yet Parsons completely ignored it. Focusing solely on tourism tells me that Parsons didn't do it's homework and jumped to the conclusion that Newport means tourism. I want the bridge ramps to be redone. And I would love for more intense, urban development in the North End. But it can't be development that fails to diversify the Island's economy and hurts the city's long-term economic health.

As for Froma Harrop's article: of course, everybody feels that way when they visit Newport at peak season, which is what makes her "magic wand" article sympathetic. And while Newport needs to improve itself on many fronts, the same can also be said for her hypothetical visitors. Did they do any homework before coming, or did they simply jump in the car and expect a good time? Simple research and a call to the CVB shows that you can park at the Gateway Center for $2 all day, get some information at the visitors center, ride the RIPTA trollies to the mansions, and walk to the shops downtown. For the most part, your vacation is what you make of it. The number of visitors that are like Harrop's hypothetical tourists (unprepared regional day-trippers) is a decreasing proportion of Newport's visitors. Events like the US Women's Open and the booming wedding business tend to bring visitors that are prepared before they arrive.

While much needs to be done to improve the city's tourism infrastructure, things are being done. The city is on the way to starting up a harbor shuttle program, and as Harrop mentions, the Gateway Center just completed some much-needed renovations. Plus, RIPTA's introduction of trolleys a few years ago has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people ditching their cars and hopping a ride to the mansions.

Though America's Cup needs more done to it than just roundabouts (try removing the northbound lanes near Bannister's), I'd love to see the roundabouts, too. The recent flap over the proposed island/roundabout/diverter at Marlborough and Broadway (to direct tourists to the parking and services at the Gateway Center) is a shame. It goes to show that sometimes the only thing preventing Newport from making itself better is itself.

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The North End is next door to some of the Navy's top research institutions and at the foot of a bridge that leads to the growing bedroom communities of South County. The opportunity for high-wage research jobs is apparent, yet Parsons completely ignored it. Focusing solely on tourism tells me that Parsons didn't do it's homework and jumped to the conclusion that Newport means tourism. I want the bridge ramps to be redone. And I would love for more intense, urban development in the North End. But it can't be development that fails to diversify the Island's economy and hurts the city's long-term economic health.

Agreed on all 3 counts. But what I'm primarily happy about is the fact that another leading city in this state embraces its urbanity -- in both senses of that word -- and is making strides towards a comprehensive plan to guide its actions as it builds towards the future.

All of which stands in such stark contrast to the typical mentality in my neck of the woods. And heck, even in Providence, it seems to me that many of our fellow Rhode Islanders have a very bland, suburban mentality. Stripmall away, baby.

As for getting the cart before the horse, maybe so, but at least the city of Newport is willing. Able? We'll see about that, but they're willing.

And honestly, no, the money that went into that consulting is nothing to sneeze at, but what's better long-term, to spend $150,000 to hire an acclaimed consulting firm to draft a vision for the future of the city, or to sink that money into fixing roads that will be a warzone again by the end of next winter? Not that you, Mapman, made that complaint yourself, but in general, I'm saying ...

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An opinion piece in this morning's ProJo: No Newport Big Dig.

More plentiful and convenient parking in Newport? Great idea. Less auto traffic, more foot traffic? Great idea. A large public parking facility? Great idea. Such a facility in Queen Anne Square? Worst idea imaginable!

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The author is exaggerating a bit by claiming that the garage will be in Queen Anne Square. In fact, it will be a block north of there on Mary St, replacing the surface lot at the top of this view:

newportmh3.jpg

Because the garage is only proposed to be three levels, with the first level set into the hillside, the 2 1/2 story houses on Church St. should be adequate to minimize its impact on Queen Anne Square. As it is now, Vanderbilt Hall (large brick building at upper right) is virtually invisible from the square, and the garage shouldn't be nearly as tall as that.

Furthermore, the garage is supposed to incorporate new Georgian-style buildings fronting Mary Street (which is just out of sight paralleling the top of the photo). Echoing the existing buildings on the street, this will of course be a vast improvement on that streetscape over the existing surface lot.

The proposal to build a garage at or near the bridge ramps certainly has merit, and is worth revisiting in the North End master plan, but the Mary St. location seems convenient and more likely to be used by the typical Newport visitor.

Her comments about signage are spot-on, though. For such a popular tourist destination, Newport could certainly make it easier to find your way around.

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Convenient? That would be a nightmare location. Mary St is a one-way, and too narrow for two-way traffic. Furthermore, it's stuck between two more one-ways, Spring and Thames. And actually, Clark is also a one-way off Washington Square, if we want to be technical about it.

None of which connects up to America's Cup/Memorial Blvd in any intuitive way.

Upper Thames, Spring, and Farewell would be a never-ending parking lot. People on America's Cup would be tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to get to the lot.

Keep it near the bridge. The farther from the heart of town, the better. Run trolleys from there to the Gateway Center, Upper Thames, Bellevue, etc.

I love those faux trolleys.

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Convenient? That would be a nightmare location. Mary St is a one-way, and too narrow for two-way traffic. Furthermore, it's stuck between two more one-ways, Spring and Thames. And actually, Clark is also a one-way off Washington Square, if we want to be technical about it.

The lot in question has been a municipal parking lot for a long as I can remember. From America's Cup you double back down Thames, then take a right up Mill St, left on Spring, and left again on Church. It'a always been this way.

From the bridge, its' straight down Farewell onto Thames, then left up Mill, left on Spring, and left again on Church.

You exit the lot/garage on Mary St and up Mary on to Spring. If you are heading for the bridge, you just follow Truro to Farewell St to the 128 interchange.

That's Newport for you - a colonial city with narrow streets and lots of one ways. Once you learn to get around, its' actually not that bad.

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